Pakistan's policy of appeasement toward the Taliban and their sympathizers taking shelter along the northwestern border with Afghanistan has played a major role in the dramatic upsurge of violence against Afghan and North Atlantic Treaty Organization forces and civilians. That has long been the view of commanders in the field and of the embattled Afghan government. Now they have been joined by the independent analysts of the respected International Crisis Group, a global think tank devoted to conflict resolution.
The Taliban use the safe tribal zone inside Pakistan to lick their wounds, regroup and rearm for fresh assaults across the border into southeastern Afghanistan. By and large, they are unhindered by Pakistani troops, provided they don't attack them as well. "The Musharraf government's ambivalent approach and failure to take effective action is destabilizing Afghanistan," the ICG report states bluntly.
President Pervez Musharraf reached peace deals with Pashtun elders in the lawless border districts of South Waziri-stan in 2004 and North Waziristan three months ago that give carte blanche to the resident Taliban and their supporters, who share tribal ties. Needless to say, those are not the written terms. On paper, the local clans, which provide the Taliban with fresh recruits, financial assistance and supplies, as well as a safe haven,have secured promises that restore the virtual autonomy they have enjoyed since the creation of Pakistan in 1947. The deals were brokered by a pro-Taliban groupthat has the largest influence in a six-party religious alliance that has thrown itspolitical support to Gen. Musharraf.
Government troops, which entered the rugged region for the first time three months after 9/11, have withdrawn from the towns and stopped harassing the tribesmen. In exchange, the latter promised not to cross the border to join the fighting against the Afghan and NATO forces. The amnesty even extends to "foreign fighters," most of whom have ties to al-Qaeda, provided they live peacefully.
That's on paper. In practice, the militants have continued their illicit activities unhindered. "While the army has virtually retreated to barracks, this accommodation facilitates the growth of militancy and attacks in Afghanistan by giving pro-Taliban elements a free hand to recruit, train and arm," the ICG says.
To strip the militants of their appeal, the ICG urges the Musharraf government to enact democratic political and economic reforms in the deeply impoverished tribal areas, where a colonial-style administration controls the purse strings and the political process, where opportunities are scarce and where desperate people have turned to weapons and drug smuggling. The report also calls on Islamabad to enforce the rule of law in the Waziristans, which means closing the training camps and dismantling the Taliban-type parallel policing and judicial structures set up by the militants.
For their part, Western governments should ratchet up the pressure on Pakistan to do its part to choke off the insurgency, because the safety of NATO and Afghan soldiers and the future of the democratically elected government in Kabul depend on it.